Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chili con carnage: Painfully hot ‘ghost chili’ popping up on Lawrence store shelves

Ghost chillis, native to India, are known as one of the hottest peppers on the planet. Lawrence restaurants such as Esquina have begun using the chilies in their salsas.

Ghost chillis, native to India, are known as one of the hottest peppers on the planet. Lawrence restaurants such as Esquina have begun using the chilies in their salsas.

January 18, 2011, 12:00 a.m. Updated 12:00 a.m.


Reader poll
Do you like spicy food?

or See the results without voting

On the street

What’s your favorite kind of spicy food?

Probably Chinese, like Szechuan.

More responses

Ghost chillis, native to India, are known as one of the hottest peppers on the planet. Lawrence restaurants such as Esquina have begun using the chilies in their salsas.

Ghost chillis, native to India, are known as one of the hottest peppers on the planet. Lawrence restaurants such as Esquina have begun using the chilies in their salsas.

Esquina's Ghost Pepper Salsa Recipe

Esquina's Ghost Pepper Salsa Recipe as told to Stephen Montemayor by Simon Bates, co-owner of Esquina.

25 bhut jolokia (ghost chili) peppers 1/4 cup toasted cumin

1/4 cup tequila

3 fresh limes, squeezed

10 medium tomatillos

1 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup fresh garlic, chopped

2 cup garlic oil

1 medium white onion, diced Sea salt

Cook ingredients chilies, cumin, tequila, lime juice, tomatillos, garlic and onion down and blend with garlic oil and sea salt. Let chill and add water for desired consistency.

Even before dehydration, the bhut jolokia — or ghost chili — is savagely red when mature and contorts itself as if to show would-be diners its plans for their tongues.

If jalapenos pop, the bhut jolokia explodes.

Erik Cofer, assistant produce manager at Checker’s Foods, 2300 Louisiana, said when tasted, the pepper first hits the back of the throat before running its numbing heat down the tongue. And he should know. Last summer Cofer grew 40 pounds of the peppers, which in the last year have popped up on grocery store shelves, in wicked salsas and, soon, in what promises to be the city’s Bloodiest Mary.

“Habaneros are ‘meh’ to me now,” Cofer said.

The Guinness Book of World Records agreed when it crowned the bhut jolokia the world’s hottest pepper in 2007. And though a chili in England was recorded as spicier last month, the bhut jolokia has been enjoying a storied rise.

Originating in northeast India, the pepper was an apparition before 2000 to all but those who grew it and dined on it to ease, of all things, stomach ills and extreme heat. When it became known just how hot it was, chili-heads worldwide took notice.

The pepper has made its way into a myriad of sauces with skulls and “death” slapped on their labels. It’s also been deemed “fit for use” by the Indian military for pepper grenades designed to smoke out terrorists.

In Lawrence, Vermont Street BBQ owner Chris Brann has been soaking the chilies in vodka to add heat to his smoked Bloody Marys and crank the volume on his homemade pickles up to 11.

“It’s haat,” Brann said of the chili, eschewing the generic “hot” long reserved for Tabasco sauce.

The spiciness of peppers is measured in Scoville units which indicate how much capiscum, the chemical compound responsible for the heat, is present in a pepper. Pure capsicum is 16 million units. A jalapeno is between 2,500 and 5,000 units. Original Tabasco is between 7,000 to 8,000 and the habanero (once the hottest known chili) notches between 350,000 to 577,000 units. The bhut jolokia? It’s been recorded as high as 1,041,427 Scoville units, or about a fifth the potency of police-grade pepper spray. staff members eat 'ghost chilis' — one of the hottest peppers on the planet's Trevan McGee and Stephen Montemayor sample the bhut jolokia chili pepper, one of the hottest peppers known to man that is enjoying some popularity in Lawrence. Enlarge video

Brann harvested seven chilies from a plant given to him from a friend. He said since the cold weather arrived and he moved the plant indoors, its been the hardest of his numerous plants to keep alive. But, still, it kicks.

“It’s a pretty hardy little plant, I figured that much out,” he said.

Brann uses one-fourth part cactus soil and three-fourths standard potting soil. He added a few stones for moisture control and has been resting the pot on a radiator near large windows producing ample sunlight. He’s quick to add that his technique is more theory than science.

Brann said his bhut jolokia-infused vodka has few frills. Any plain vodka will do. He then crushes the peppers and lets them soak for a minimum of one month and no longer than three months.

“Any longer than that it becomes special reserve stuff,” he said with a laugh.

Diners at Esquina, 801 Mass, may have had a ghost chile encounter when visiting in the summer and fall months. Co-owner Simon Bates introduced the pepper, supplied from a Eudora farm, into one of the restaurant’s salsas. Up until last month when supply ceased for the season, Bates said Lawrence’s most powerful salsa met an equally-strong reception.

“It was a big hit and it’s just delicious,” Bates said.

One of Brann’s concerns when considering whether to concoct a bhut jolokia-infused barbecue sauce was offending diners with too much heat. Bates said he found a way to preserve the flavor of the pepper while satisfying resident chili-heads.

“I mean, we could’ve made so that it was so intensely spicy that no one would’ve been able to try them,” Bates said. “But being in Kansas and all we just tried to make it a little more accessible.”

Bates put about 25 small, fresh chilies into each one-quart batch. He roasted onions, tomatillos and garlic with the peppers and blended the ingredients with tequila, lime, vinegar and oil — see attached recipe. Each batch would last about two days.

The chilies can be found in packaged and dried at Checkers for usually a little more than $3. Mrs. Renfro’s Ghost Pepper Salsa has also started appearing on shelves since the fall.

Bates said the sauce won’t return to Esquina until summer unless he can find the fresh chilies for a reasonable price between now and then. Either way it’s “for sure” coming back, he said.

Until then, those cooking at home would be well advised to wear rubber gloves when preparing the chili.

Brann said bhut jolokias go best with traditional Middle Eastern curry dishes. He recommends reducing the peppers in oil at first to cook a little of the heat out.

And, above all, he said, make sure you like haat stuff.


Tandava 7 years, 4 months ago

The heat of chili peppers is not a flavor or type of taste. It is often called "pungency", but it is nothing more than pain, pain pure and simple. Humans are the only animal that like hot peppers. No one knows why, really, but there seems to be something really weird about humans that they would take so much apparently perverse pleasure in pain.

For a more thorough discussion of this topic, please read the very interesting article in the New York Times, "A Perk of Our Evolution - Pleasure in Pain of Chilies", by James Gorman, published Sept. 20, 2010. Here's the URL:

Judgesmails 7 years, 4 months ago

They sure didnt taste good to Stephan in the video.


SpicePirate 7 years, 4 months ago

Acutally, birds in the southwest, and in mexico eat them all the time. Hot peppers, that is, not these in particular. The Tepin and Pequin for instance.

PebblesFlintstone 7 years, 4 months ago

DId Vermont Street BBQ reopen? I'm confused.

RogueThrill 7 years, 4 months ago

I've eaten them dessicated and fresh and the fresh ones are much better. The dry ones aren't as hot and often have a really terrible after taste of rubber. The best way to describe it is it tastes like a tire fire in your mouth.

Also, be very careful if you eat a whole one. The pain in your mouth only lasts half an hour or so, but it hurts almost as bad coming out. Additionally, in some cases they can cause severe cramping several hours after eating/

And the reason we enjoy hot foods are because we get a sense of euphoria once the pain dies down. I always feel pretty good once once the runaway salivating stops.

riverdrifter 7 years, 4 months ago

Regarding the taste, I agree. I hated the taste of them and would never use them for anything. Bleah. I'll stick with habaneros.

gmill 7 years, 3 months ago

Those sound awesome. I love habaneros. I don't get to eat them that often because my family are wimps :(

Commenting has been disabled for this item.